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Saint Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s belated New Year’s address on January 13, 2019, was nothing more than a torrent of half-truths, misrepresentations, and outright lies, but more, perhaps, was his extraordinary aloofness.
To complement this, his tragic fevered imagination does not speak to the inherent dignity and value for Saint Lucians as a whole, with a level of authentic passion worthy of celebrating and protecting – except, to say, “It’s Our Time” [Family, Friends, and Foreigners] “the kind that listens to the concerns of our people and bona fide organizations.”
Quite apart, days prior, junior minister with responsibility for culture, Senator Fortuna Belrose, compared the government of Saint Lucia to the biblical leader Joshua, who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, saying, “This year will be one of deliverance for Saint Lucians. So we can be proud that we have a government that listens to the pulse of the people and is mindful of the realities and is responding and leading the way.”
So, let’s unpack the “state of the nation” without concern about being admonished that: “We must understand that we do not bite the hand that feeds us and expect everything to be alright.”
Prime Minister Chastanet mumbled through multiple messaging clichés to describe 2019 stating, “It’s Our Time” – “give it once again purpose, vitality and direction” adding, “2019 will be the year of implementation as a number of public and private sector projects get underway; translating into the biggest infusion of capital into our economy ever.”
According to the prime minister, “The policies of this government are to provide affordable, quality health care, a globally competitive education, and public safety and security for all. Our policies are designed to create opportunities for our people through employment and participation in economic activity.”
But if anyone is still in shock by the change that Prime Minister Chastanet is planning for Saint Lucia then you haven’t been paying attention to exactly what that means for country and for everyone else, as he continues to mess up the state of the nation in stagnation.
In under 25 minutes, the prime minister rearranged prior brash talk, and election promises and even the most controversial projects, the Desert Star Holdings “Pearl of the Caribbean”, adding, “We are getting set to upgrade the Hewanorra International Airport to the tune of US$170 million.”
Fact: More fundamental is that government has guaranteed the Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) loan of US$100 million from the Export–Import Bank of the Republic of China (Taiwan) for the HIA Redevelopment Project on behalf of the Saint Lucia Air & Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA) with little public information on specifics of the loan and development plans.
Arguably, mathematical formulas set the framework for public debate and resonate over government guarantee [US$100 or 170 million] and people’s actual experiences now living with the consequences of the fixation on double-digit growth at any cost, versus people’swellbeing.
Fact: Reporting to parliament, December 11, 2018, Allen Chastanet, prime minister and minister for finance, said: “With current borrowing [EC$1.5 billion] the debt to GDP ratio is expected at 64.2 percent. Unemployment rate is 20.9 percent, and youth unemployment has increased to 38 percent, while inflation is at 2 percent.”
Economists worry the debt-to-GDP ratio is at least 86 percent, and public debt ratio, which was projected to reach 81.3 percent of GDP in 2023, already exists. There goes the need for an adjustment aimed at attaining the ECCU debt target of 60 percent of GDP by 2030.
The citation that: “My administration inherited the largest and fastest debt accumulation in five years at $3.1 billion. The highest recorded youth and overall unemployment rates and the weakest economy in the OECS,” and constantly blaming the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) for two-and-a-half years is characteristic of a childish leader, with no adult in Cabinet and his administration capable to tame waywardness.
The backlash the Chastanet administration is currently witnessing suggests that people are turning against their faulty understanding of people lives and the distorted three percent economic growth that erroneously suggests the country is doing well for everyone.
In like manner, it is not realistic that “It is time that we come out of the mindset that everything that government does must be subject to a political interpretation, [when in fact it is] or be seen as opportunity to create mischief, confusion and division,” when the Chastanet led administration fails to take its own advice to “put away the petty and silly squabbles that constantly seem to surface and which only serve to foment division.”
There’s the adage, government sets the tone for the country. And while “nation building is a serious matter,” reports suggest it’s an outright lie to say, “Over the last 30 months our government has been able to stabilize the economy.”
Fact: The five to stay-a-live policy continues to suck out at least EC$52 million annually from the economy while transferring wealth to the one percent economic and political elites.
The prime minister’s misrepresentations of the facts reads: “The Labour Party government’s irresponsible handling of the IMPACS investigation, has also contributed to the sharp decline in the morale of our police, who are doing their utmost in overwhelming circumstances.”
Fact: Culpability is squarely with the government ministers in the previous Stephenson King administration and police officials responsible for Operation Restore Confidence (ORC) debacle in the first place.
Eleven criminal suspects were allegedly killed by the police during ORC but no one responsible for the killings has ever been prosecuted and, in fact, even inquests into the deaths also became delayed.
Moreover, the prime minister’s utterance isn’t overly helpful in the midst of the recent crime wave, to message: “Strategically, we have taken decisions to strengthen our police force and justice system; however, we recognize we still have a long way to go in providing the basics that are vital to serious crime fighting. But similarly we will be asking for accountability.”
In other words, “The strategy is to say that there is a strategy” and “to engage more young people to join clubs and not gangs,” while his administration withdrew after school programs and defund aspects of the social safety net, thereby compounding vulnerability.
Evidently there is an increase in the levels of violence, and humiliation in the rule of law, to the point of nation disgrace, that the writ department, vulnerable persons unit, criminal administration office and criminal records office were burglarized over the Christmas season.
Meanwhile a comprehensive solution still eludes government, and the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) sustained negative consequences for public security, moral and civic values, and the future success of the country’s economy is detrimental.
In likeness to the Allen Chastanet administration, unfit for governance, persistent failures on the part of the RSLPF illustrate that the entire senior leadership should have all submitted their resignation by now, if not replaced forthwith.
Housing/Social Safety Net
The elimination of the distress fund in the 2017-18 budget for poor people in times of emergency, in particular house fires, seven households that were destroyed by fire on New Year’s Day, however, the prime minister lacks compassion for average Saint Lucians and instead presents fading hopes, fantasy dreams and a photo ops.
Where’s the cheque, in recognition to human suffering and compassion for average Saint Lucians? It’s the right thing to do!
Further, the National Apprenticeship Programme (NAP) within the Office of the Prime Minister, operating as some type of employment agency propagates the servant master relationship, serves to depress wages.
Meanwhile the prime minister’s solution is such that “Initially we had promised a $10 million injection;” however, noting that the SLDB has attracted a significant number of persons wishing to own a home and improve their economic and social well-being, “we doubled that amount to $20 million,” in a stagnant economy.
The Education System
This is worse than one might imagine with the minister for education altering accents, while children are kept out of school for weeks on end.
Fact: “Under the EQUIP project we have invested $10 million in the expansion, rehabilitation and furnishing of several learning institutions to improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of instruction in the education sector.” A continuation from the previous government.
The healthcare crisis is of no significance to the prime minister prefaced on his non-committal to transition Victoria and St Jude hospitals.
His ethos is that of sporadic construction of polyclinics, mini hospitals and smart health care facilities [FFF module] with no relationship to the primary hospitals Owen King European Union (OKEU) and St Jude hospital.
“We have already commenced clearing works for the new hospital wing and the ministries of health and economic development have finalized the design. Construction is set to start within the next few weeks.”
Notably, no mention of the status of OKEU with private foreign interest, which is seemingly comparable to deception. Perhaps, healthcare in Saint Lucia is regrettable, an à la carte menu of services, coupled with a disjointed national healthcare insurance scheme.
Investments and Developments
The prime minister’s economic development is premised on wholesale privatization of government services.
Desilting of the John Compton Dam, Grace and Dennery, spending approximately EC$168 million in 2019 in the water sector, while major projects up north will be the regeneration of the capital, lags behind a comprehensive development strategies to buttress public spending with the right policy-mix to balance public administration reforms, labour and trade market flexibility, to strengthen the social networks and security regulations.
Further to that, the committed to getting the business environment in better shape to create more and better jobs, in both the formal and informal sector must improve by way the ease of doing business. Cutting overall cost and bureaucracy of doing business would help innovation, technology, human and financial capital loose to drive growth.
This is further evidence that “Every successful city has a strategic advantage or focus that allows it to be competitive on a global basis,” Castries is not fully defined, beyond the concept of demolition of historic buildings and building a park — à la Central Park.
While the prime minister may have missed the memo from Winfresh recently that demand for Saint Lucian bananas in the UK is expected to decline by roughly 60 percent in 2019, he said, “Banana exports are at their highest in several years.”
Fact: There goes the financial year 2018/19 allocation of expenditure that “Key investments in agriculture will be EC$4.38 million under the Banana Productivity Improvement Project and the EC$3.02 million under the Agriculture Transformation Programme.”
Agriculture is not existent in the larger economic picture the country’s economy. The vulnerabilities of food (price stability) inflation and food security challenges require a practical shift in trade policies, as an urgent priority to climate change adaptation and extreme weather events.
Security challenges, the global economy and the sudden effects of climate change compound vulnerability to Saint Lucia’s tourism and “exclusive hotels” that are heavily subsidized with withholding tax and huge concessions, disadvantageous to other sectors of the economy.
Fact: Among all this, members of the ill-defined cabinet play well to “shut up and fall in line” under the command of impromptu meetings and attendance at a cabinet meeting recently held at Sandals.
However, the benefactors of “This surge in tourism has resulted in Saint Lucia regaining its position as the leading tourism destination in the OECS,” has not translated to the economic well being of the people and to replenish subsidies sucked out of the economy, into foreign bank accounts.
Even so “recording in 2017 the highest number of arrivals” is a zero sum game and highly questionable, in relation to attaining double-digit growth at any cost, trickledown economics and the people’s wellbeing.
As minister for tourism in 2006, Allen Chastanet promised six hotels. To date, not one hotel construction is credited to his expertise, in distinction to the SLP being credited to all new hotels, renovated and expansion properties.
The much talked about citizenship by investment projects and government touristic development today, is a miserable failure, even to seemingly attract Ponzi scheme investors operating in competing citizenship programs in another Caribbean island.
Saint Lucia is in trouble with a cynical political ploy and ill-conceived business, development and/or investment magnates.
Government fiscal burdens are vulnerable to global financial conditions, amidst low tax revenue and a shrinking tax base. The encumbrance of exorbitant tax exemptions and fraud create larger budget deficits and higher public borrowing.
The prospects of a debt ceiling is still feasible, given that a substantial portion of government revenue is used to make interest payments and service debts. And that government deficit is expected to increases as a share of GDP contributing to growing public debt. Further, should borrowing cost rise as expected, financing conditions and capital outflows will tighten.
The added risk is the international trade and investment have softened amidst US trade war with China, the US government shutdown impact on growth and financial stability and concern about the what ifs should a recession hit looms large.
These instabilities increase systemic disruptions on the economy and at the same time extend distressed conditions on shrinking economies like Saint Lucia.
Therefore, strengthening debt management, eliminating corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, and the need to bolster transparency to restore economic dynamism is foremost of a strong government important principle, eludes the prime minister.
Prime Minister Chastanet’s belated address is hardly a fast track to deliverance, except “it’s our time” for FFF.
Two instructions come to mind. Nepocracy triumphs when merit is discarded by politicians and that it’s futile trying to conceal that idiocracy is a warning not a plan; à la Donald Trump – when narratives portray outlandish ignorance, to socio-economic realities.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warnings of a possible new financial crisis underline the importance of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.
Apparently, others matters as well escaped the prime minister’s address such as preparedness for socio-economic turbulence, fostering long-term growth through fiscal buffers like building human capital and fostering inclusive growth.
These are worrisome. And, giving that literal voice to real-world concerns has become an attenuated political and economic ploy for the prime minister who bears relationship to the 43 percent that he claims — not the well-preserved.
Perhaps, he should read Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell comments at the Economic Club of Washington, earlier this month and the World Bank’s January 2019 Global Economic Prospects reports.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and News Now Global analysis. He can be reached at [email protected]